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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Audience ‘Rapt’ by Live Birds of Prey

Audience ‘Rapt’ by 
Live Birds of Prey:
Audubon Society shows hawks, owls and falcons up close
(Posted to 1/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – These were not your everyday backyard birdfeeder birds but you might seem them up in the treetops nevertheless.

On Saturday morning, the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at 2325 Burr Street presented a Live Birds of Prey program that gave over 40 attendees the chance to meet up close falcons, hawks and owls that are native to Connecticut.

Linnea McHenry, the Animal Care Supervisor and Environmental Educator, a full-time worker at the Center, presented the program. McHenry teaches classes both at the Center and at local schools using the Society’s animals for demonstration purposes. This particular program is offered three to four times a year with a goal of raising awareness about the birds that are found in this local area and to help people identify the various species.

“People often wonder about the birds, thinking that they live in faraway places,” said McHenry, “when in reality they are native to the area. Each one of our birds has a story and all are non-releasable due to past injuries and domestication.”

McHenry said her presentation is a rare opportunity to be close to these amazing birds. “They are so powerful and wild. To work and train them is very fulfilling. It’s humbling really. They’re incredible. Unfortunately, they end up here usually because of an accident and they lose trust for humans. We work hard to win that back, which is really difficult to do. Then they go from being very independent to dependent on everything from us,” she explained.

Attendees were a mix of children, adults and even amateur nature enthusiasts, and all looked forward to the program.

“We see hawks around a lot in our area and now we get the chance to see them up close,” said Denise Rainey of Stratford attending with her grandson Nolan Liscinsky, 6. “Nolan likes neighborhood birds but I think he’s going to be wowed by the big ones.”

Adam Bell of Trumbull, attending with his son Austin, 2, and father Don, said, “Austin loves birds, particularly owls. It will be neat to see the different birds and to learn about them. He has bird books at home with sounds and related toys. What does an owl say, Austin?” The boy replied with a grin, “Whoooo!”

Speaking at the front of a high-ceilinged great room with large picture windows framed by icicles, McHenry didn’t disappoint. Donning leather gloves called gauntlets, she presented the first of several resident raptors, Bella the broad-winged hawk.

The newest in the Center’s care, Bella had been hit by a car, which damaged her left wing. She was initially treated by an independent “rehabber” and though she healed well, she couldn’t be re-released to the wild. She was very nervous at first and had to be kept in a large, dark mesh cage for two months before she gradually adjusted to her environment. McHenry spoke about its lifespan – usually 6 to 8 years in the wild – and diet which included mice, small birds and amphibians.

Bailey, an American Kestrel from the falcon family, was the second bird McHenry presented. Bailey had fallen out of its nest as a baby and was found by a woman who took him into her home and fed him milk and bread. Bailey got very sick and was taken to a vet. Luckily, the bird recovered but never gained the strength to survive in the wild. Attendees were delighted by its musical chirp and intricate feather patterns.

Perhaps the most popular bird was Millie, a female barn owl, that the Center had received when it was just two months old and is 100% domesticated. It’s heart-shaped monkey face and facts about its exceptional hearing and ravenous appetite intrigued the audience.

Snapping photographs at the back of the room with a serious Canon camera, self-described semi-pro wildlife photographer Ed Gonzalez of Killingworth, CT, was clearly moved. “I’m usually down on the Connecticut River photographing bald eagles and hawks. I haven’t had much luck with owls. I really love birds of prey.”

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